Posts about end

Ambient intimacy

Leisa Reichelt says that the syncopated updates we share publicly with friends and followers in Twitter (and blogs and Flickr….) add up to what she called “ambient intimacy.”

Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.

Who cares? Who wants this level of detail? Isn’t this all just annoying noise? There are certainly many people who think this, but they tend to be not so noisy themselves. It seems to me that there are lots of people for who being social is very much a ‘real life’ activity and technology is about getting stuff done.

There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like.

Knowing these details creates intimacy. (It also saves a lot of time when you finally do get to catchup with these people in real life!) It’s not so much about meaning, it’s just about being in touch.

Right. I argued in this post and column sometime ago that these functionalities — plus our ongoing connectedness on Facebook and our searchability via Google — will have a profound impact on friendship and our relationships. I said there that they will keep us in touch longer and so we can’t just lose people anymore. Reichelt says they also change our current relationships and I agree. It’s quite an insight that this causes a new kind of intimacy: We see the things we wouldn’t see in others’ lives unless we were damned near living together. For some people, I couldn’t care to know that much. For others, she’s right, it is a handy way to catch up, to be in touch.

I’ve mentioned here that I’ve found and been found by friends I haven’t seen in decades (more than I’ll admit) thanks to one or the other of our Google shadows. I’m about to meet up with one of them and we’ve been doing this catchup dance via email, which is also new and fits under Reichelt’s umbrella, I think, for it’s just a cold technological tool that makes it easy to update and catch up. If I’d been catching up via Facebook or Twitter or blogs all that time, the possibilities and definitions of friendship would be different.

Reichelt also talks about the flipside of this, ambient exposure: the publicness that makes this possible but also creates some vulnerability. And each force us to define our societies, the people we want to share with: one person on an email, a few people in a chat, a defined group in Facebook or Pownce, a group we don’t define (if we’re public) in Twitter, anyone at all in a blog.

What a great time to be a Reichelt writing about this or a Danah Boyd studying it or a Tara Hunt living it.

Molecularization: The open marketplace of influence

Richard Haass has a brilliant essay in Foreign Affairs, just out, arguing that we are moving from a world structure of multipolarity and bi- and unipolarity — that is, the Cold War and its aftermath — to an age of nonpolarity — that is, nobody’s in charge.

We are entering an open marketplace of influence. I think of this as a molecular era, when any of us are atoms that can attract and repel from other atoms around any common interests. The internet — read: Google — makes it possible for us to broadcast our interests and then to find, coalesce around, organize, and act in concert around them. One no longer need control institutions to control agendas, for the institutional structure is fading as are the institutions themselves: Haass chronicles the dilution of governments and other static bodies. I regularly follow the crumbling of the power of the fourth estate, the press. See also the fall of the firm. And add to that the long-ago decline of the first estate, the church. You could say that this is the day of the third estate — the rise of the people — which might otherwise be seen as anarchy except for the internet’s power to enable organization. But that organization is ad hoc; molecules can dissipate as quickly as they come together. We are still organized, only differently. We can organize ourselves even around old borders and rules. (See Andrew Tyndall’s ideas for how such organization can work.)

At last, here’s Haass setting forth is theory of unipolarity:

Today’s world differs in a fundamental way from one of classic multipolarity: there are many more power centers, and quite a few of these poles are not nation-states. Indeed, one of the cardinal features of the contemporary international system is that nation-states have lost their monopoly on power and in some domains their preeminence as well. States are being challenged from above, by regional and global organizations; from below, by militias; and from the side, by a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and corporations. Power is now found in many hands and in many places.

Besides six major world powers, he lists regional power; organizations (the powerful alphabets: UN, IMF, EU, OAS, OPEC, WHO); nation-states (e.g., California); companies; global media outlets (as opposed to declining local ones); militias (as he calls them); terrorist organizations; NGOs (he uses the Gates Foundation as an example).

“Today’s world,” he says, “is increasingly one of distributed, rather than concentrated, power.”

This includes, of course, media: “Alternatives to U.S.-produced and disseminated television are multiplying. Web sites and blogs from other countries provide further competition for U.S.-produced news and commentary. The proliferation of information is as much a cause of nonpolarity as is the proliferation of weaponry.”

Globalization and the falling of borders to many flows — “rom drugs, e-mails, greenhouse gases, manufactured goods, and people to television and radio signals, viruses (virtual and real), and weapons” — also has an obvious impact:

Globalization reinforces nonpolarity in two fundamental ways. First, many cross-border flows take place outside the control of governments and without their knowledge. As a result, globalization dilutes the influence of the major powers. Second, these same flows often strengthen the capacities of nonstate actors, such as energy exporters (who are experiencing a dramatic increase in wealth owing to transfers from importers), terrorists (who use the Internet to recruit and train, the international banking system to move resources, and the global transport system to move people), rogue states (who can exploit black and gray markets), and Fortune 500 firms (who quickly move personnel and investments). It is increasingly apparent that being the strongest state no longer means having a near monopoly on power. It is easier than ever before for individuals and groups to accumulate and project substantial power.

In the end, Haass argues that is is a more disorganized though not anarchic world: “With so many more actors possessing meaningful power and trying to assert influence, it will be more difficult to build collective responses and make institutions work. Herding dozens is harder than herding a few.” True, but I’d also argue that at a smaller scale level, it is easier to organize and influence than it ever was for those outside of institutions.

It’s the centralization of control that is really disappearing. Control moves to the edge. That does not mean the world is out of control (except to those who used to control it).